Clarissa “Clara” Barton was born on Christmas (December 25) in 1821 in Oxford, Massachusetts. She is widely known as one of the most honored women in American history for being a real pioneer and an outstanding humanitarian.
Her career in helping the sick began when her brother David became her first patient. He fell from a rafter in the family barn when Clara was just 11 years old. She stayed by his side for three years, learning how to give him all his medicines.
Clara was a real pioneer in many ways. She began teaching school, despite the fact that most teachers were men at that time. Later, she became one of the first women ever to be employed by the federal government.
She was working as a clerk in the United States Patent Office in Washington, D.C., when the Civil War began in 1861. She immediately recognized that there was a need for giving help to the young, poorly equipped soldiers of the new war.
Instead of waiting for others to step in, Clara collected needed items on her own, asked the public for donations and learned how to store and distribute them to soldiers. She also served the soldiers in more personal ways, such as reading to them, writing letters for them and praying with them.
Clara soon learned that, although local needs were great, there were even more serious needs to be met out on the battlefields. She repeatedly asked government and military leaders for permission to bring her volunteer services and supplies to the places they were needed most.
She eventually received permission and, after the Battle of Cedar Mountain in northern Virginia in August 1862, she arrived at a field hospital at midnight with a wagon full of supplies. An overwhelmed but thankful surgeon at that field hospital would later write, “I thought that night if heaven ever sent out a[n]… angel, she must be one — her assistance was so timely.”
From that time on, Clara was called “the angel of the battlefield,” as she selflessly served soldiers amid some of the worst battles of the Civil War. She often put her own life in danger because she was willing to travel to the front lines in the heat of battle.
In 1869, Clara went to Europe and learned about the International Committee of the Red Cross. Upon her return to the United States, she successfully founded the American Red Cross in 1881 at the age of 60! Her vision for the American Red Cross was to provide aid in times of natural disasters, as well as wars.
She led the American Red Cross for the next 23 years. True to her nature, Clara always went to where the need was greatest.
In 1896, she traveled to Istanbul to respond to the humanitarian crisis in the Ottoman Empire. She also opened the first American International Red Cross headquarters in Beijing, China.
Clara even worked in hospitals in Cuba when she was 77 years old! Her last field mission as president of the American Red Cross was to help the victims of the 1900 Galveston hurricane. She did not retire from the American Red Cross until she was 83.
Today, the American Red Cross continues the mission Clara set forth more than 100 years ago. With the help of thousands of volunteers, the American Red Cross provides relief to victims of disasters, as well as helps people prevent, prepare for and respond to all sorts of emergencies.